Meet the women entrepreneurs: Esra Üzel Yüncüler
Esra Üzel Yüncüler, 43, is a founding member and chairperson of EkoDoku, a social cooperative producing eco-friendly silk and sustainable textiles in Ankara, Türkiye. She recently joined the Gender-Responsive Procurement (GRP) Summit in Istanbul, organized by UN Women in partnership with KAGİDER and the Global Compact Türkiye, and financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The Summit was hosted as a satellite event of the Regional Women’s Entrepreneurship EXPO 2022, to be held virtually on 16–17 November.
The story goes back to 2017 when a group of colleagues and I conducted a study and developed a common use facility project on strengthening traditional silk production in Hatay, southern Türkiye. Two very important things happened during this study that ultimately led to our initiative. First, I had the chance to discover in-detail “Hatay sarısı” (the yellow of Hatay), a very rare type of silk fibre exclusively found in Hatay which had resurfaced after a couple of decades. Secondly, during the field study, I met a silk producer, Emel Duman, whose story inspired our initiative.
The traditional way to produce silk is to “harvest” fibres from the cocoon in their raw state by being boiled in hot water (still containing the silkworms) and stirring until the cocoons unravel. Ms. Duman’s family has been in silk production for generations, but she was uncomfortable with the idea of boiling cocoons ever since she could remember. Despite the “tradition”, she followed her heart and discreetly tried to harvest fibre from pierced cocoons, finally managing to do so and thus saving many butterflies. In time, she tried to develop the practice, but it could never be commercialized due to technological limitations in traditional silk fibre production.
When I discovered the “Hatay sarısı” and heard Emel Duman’s story, I told myself “OK, I need to do anything I can to help such a noble effort to protect the silkworms and butterflies and “Hatay sarısı” should survive and get stronger in an eco-friendly fashion. These ideas led to the formation of EkoDoku Sustainable Development Social Cooperative, in 2021, which aims to uphold eco-friendly, peaceful and non-violent textile production.
As women entrepreneurs, the main challenge we face is lack of access to funding, especially in sectors traditionally not associated with women and dominated by men. At the GRP Summit, we also realized that the lack of gender-sensitive training programmes and gender-responsive procurement approach and regulations are an obstacle.
There is also the issue of resistance to innovative solutions brought in by women. Due to male dominance in many sectors, women need to come up with new and innovative approaches instead of building on already established initiatives and value chains to open space for themselves in any economic field. Although our innovative approaches are appreciated at times, they mostly face strong resistance by male-dominated industries.
Women entrepreneurs need more funding, underpinned by financial literacy. We need awareness-raising on the importance of women’s entrepreneurship. Not only for ourselves, but also for men. Technical training and support to advance entrepreneurship and digitalization, as well as cooperation platforms, both national and international are also much needed. Lastly, we need to develop regulations on gender-responsive procurement, so all sectors buy from women.
This will be our first time joining the regional Women’s Entrepreneurship EXPO and we hope to improve the visibility of our products, share experiences, and learn best practices from women entrepreneurs from Türkiye and beyond, while also learning about new funding and training opportunities.”